Chronic pain is defined as pain that has lasted for longer than three months and is generally unresponsive to treatment. As the holidays and New Year’s resolutions get closer, it may be time to see how you could start a chronic pain diet that works.
Creating a chronic pain diet
One of the ways that many chronic pain patients find improvement over time is through a holistic chronic pain diet. Although “diet” usually refers to fad weight loss plans or severe, “quick fix” changes, diet in this case means making healthy lifestyle changes that are meant to be permanent and functional. Improving the quality of the food you eat to improve your health should be “usual and customary food,” in the truest dictionary definition of the word “diet.”
For many, the information on dietary changes for chronic pain can be overwhelming and difficult to sift through. Here we have created the ultimate guide to a chronic pain diet to make it easier.
Step 1: Talk to your doctor
Every change in your treatment plan should start with a conversation with your doctor. They may be able to recommend specific resources related to your diagnosis.
Step 2: Find the chronic pain diet that works for you
Not all diets are created equal when it comes to managing pain symptoms, but there are a few that have been shown to result in longer, healthier lives. Below, we cover four diets that embrace holistic lifestyle approaches to food that may also have the benefit of pounds lost. What’s more important is how you’ll likely feel once you start these.
Many of these diets follow the same basic guidelines (e.g., focus on fresh food, eliminate or cut back on sugar, etc.) but what matters most is what’s sustainable for you and your lifestyle. Managing chronic pain through diet is not a quick fix, and going back and forth from healthy eating to old habits won’t work.
Step 3: Focus on your symptoms
While there are some similarities in diets that work for chronic pain, there are some specific tips that apply more to some conditions than others.
For example, people with arthritis may want to focus their efforts on losing weight. Eating for weight loss may bring about lasting pain relief, especially for those who suffer from arthritis in the knees and hips.
These types of eating plans are best combined with exercise and can help ease pain by:
- Relieving weight-based pressure on the joints
- Providing more energy and ease in daily tasks
- Improving mood
For rheumatoid arthritis, there is growing evidence that a vegan diet that eliminates all animal products is effective for pain relief when other approaches are not.
Arthritis is not the only type of chronic pain that can benefit from a specific chronic pain diet overhaul. Fibromyalgia is a whole-body pain condition that is characterized by tender points that can flare to unbearable levels of pain. Diets that may work well for this condition include:
- Macrobiotic diet: Along with eating fresh food in season and plenty of traditional Japanese foods such as tofu and miso soup, this chronic pain diet advocates energy work and maintaining a positive outlook.
- Paleo diet: A Paleo diet focuses on healthy fats; grass-fed, organically raised meats; fresh fruits and vegetables, and nuts and seeds. This diet also eliminates all processed foods, all added sugar, and preservatives or artificial additives. The research is largely anecdotal, but as the foods consumed on this diet are anti-inflammatory, it stands to reason that proponents would feel some level of pain relief.
- Vegetarian diet: If eliminating all types of animal products (including honey) is not for you, those with fibromyalgia might consider trying a vegetarian diet on for size. If committing to eliminating all meat and fish all at once is too much, try Meatless Mondays or becoming a weekday vegetarian to start.
Step 4: Manage stress
While not a typical piece of advice when considering making a significant change to your diet, stress can throw every good plan out of whack. Stress eating is a real thing, and even just one day of fat- and sugar-filled indulgence can be enough to cause a painful flare-up of symptoms.
When daily life becomes hectic, stay on track with stress-busting comfort foods. You can snack and still stick to a pain-healthy diet.
Step 5: Focus on health
Sure, cutting back on sugar and focusing on whole, fresh foods will help you drop some pounds, but the end goal is not weight loss. The end goal with a chronic pain diet is overall health and wellness. To that end, make all of the changes based on what is good and healthy for your body. It’s not about getting a “bikini body” or squeezing into your high school jeans. Changing your diet for pain management and increased well-being goes far beyond those goals. Love the body you are in while making positive, healthy changes.
Step 6: “Everything in moderation, including moderation.” Oscar Wilde
Except for extreme cases or doctor-ordered, life-preserving dietary changes, there is nothing wrong with an occasional indulgence. You may be more likely to stay with a new chronic pain diet if you allow yourself a little wiggle room every now and then. Dark choco